Meteoroid vs goose... again


Thanks to the latest issue (no. 240) of Fortean Times I've just learnt of the remarkable case whereby an unlucky Canada goose Branta canadensis was, allegedly, hit by a meteoroid (Anon. 2008). The story goes that Derbyshire postman Adrian Mannion was 'having a morning cuppa with his wife Fiona' (I'm not quite sure what a cuppa is, but assume it's a sexual act of some sort) when a rock fell, from space, onto their driveway. It was followed by the goose, which hit the roof of their car. This story was reported in that most reliable of sources, The Sun newspaper, back in February (it's here). Their report includes photos, one of which shows Fiona holding a rock (it really doesn't look like a meteorite, not that I'm an expert), and another which purports to show the unfortunate goose [shown here]. The goose may not have been killed by the meteorite, but while lying in the driveway it was carried off and dispatched by a fox.

What's particularly interesting is that it isn't the first time this has been reported: yes, believe it or don't, supposedly another Canada goose was, reportedly, hit by a meteoroid. This case was also reported in Fortean Times (Anon. 1988). I know this case well because I wrote it up for a document I produced on accidental deaths. Here's the relevant section of that text...

Possible cause of death: being hit by a meteor. The odds of being hit by a meteor are astronomically low and it seems hardly likely that any animal might ever be killed in this way. Nevertheless, in March 1987 a Canada goose flying as part of a flock over Northamptonshire, England, was allegedly struck by a falling object and killed instantly. The dead animal was perforated by a large hole in the back and two smaller ones in the breast. A yellow flash was witnessed by an observer at the same time as the goose was hit.

Meteoroids are (presumably) not that uncommon, and given that there are a lot of animals on the planet, I suppose it's believable that animals must get hit at least occasionally. I'm pretty sure I recall a case where a person was hit (but not killed). But what are the odds? We all know that the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field are approximately 3720 to 1 but my first suspicion was that this was some new bizarre sort of urban myth. However, with only two very dodgy cases to go on it's difficult to know what to think.

Refs - -

Anon. 1988. Meteor cooks goose. Fortean Times 50, 25.

- . 2008. Bad day for goose. Fortean Times 240, 9.

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According to, a "cuppa" is a cup of tea. The urban dictionary adds the possibilities of a cup of coffee or farting in your cupped hand and putting it under somebody's nose.

You had me going until the bit with the fox. No doubt it just took the goose off for a cuppa.

The "yellow flash" from 1988 is a curious detail. If true, it would have to have been an electric arc, equalizing static charge with the goose. We don't often hear of meteorites that strike the ground discharging, but Tunguska was reported to have engaged in some frivolous interaction before it actually struck.

The woman who was struck by a meteor that plunged through her roof suffered an enormous bruise. At least that one is easy to verify.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 28 Aug 2008 #permalink

I would have thought a meteorite would have been more blackened by its entry into the atmosphere. That rock looks like just a bit of building rubble.

I think a better theory than the meteorite one is that a local fox has learned how to bring down passing birds by throwing rocks at them.

Coincidentally, and perhaps having very little to do with geese (although undeniably tied to things flying through space), further discussion of the odds of navigating an asteroid field can be found here.

A woman called Ann Hodges was apparently hit by a meteorite in 1954.

The rate of meteroidal material hitting the Earth is quite high, with estimates measured in many tons per day, but little of this reaches the surface in the form of intact rocks - most is ground to dust by atmospheric friction. I'm having little luck finding estimates of how frequent actual meteorite impacts on the ground are, but WP has an unreferenced estimate of 500/year.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 29 Aug 2008 #permalink

According to the Ten Year Annals of the Hittite king Mursilis II, a 'thunderbolt' struck Apasa (= Ephesus), the capital of the rebellious client-kingdom of Arzawa. This thunderbolt, wich might well have been a meteor, was said to have wounded the knee of the Arzawan king (or brought him to his knees?).
As the bolide was large enogh to be seen in the whole land of Arzawa, it is rather unlikely that the king was the only person afflicted by this impact. Quite probably a lot of ordinary people were killed, but unlike their king, they were not important enough to be mentioned in a chronicle.

I remember reading somewhere about a giant sloth skeleton being found lying on a meteorite. Of course, it would be hard to know what the actual cause of death was. And these "I once read it somewhere" stories are always suspicious.

The photo from The Sun is like a Nature photo. No resolution. The thing shown could be anything.

Tunguska was reported to have engaged in some frivolous interaction before it actually struck.

It didn't strike, it exploded high up in the air...

wich might well have been a meteor

Chinese chronicles are full of reports like "it rained iron at the [name] river, tens of thousands of soldiers died". Source: a great book called Rain of Iron and Ice.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 29 Aug 2008 #permalink

David: Well, there's this deep lake not far from the blast zone that had been a swamp before.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 29 Aug 2008 #permalink

Couldn't the explosion have blown some mud away?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 30 Aug 2008 #permalink

Adam: "On" a meteorite? What, did that sloth snag a meteor from the air, and then had its heart burst with pride?

David: Well, yes, but the blast flattened trees in one place, and the lake appeared somewhere else. Whatever blew up couldn't have actually vaporized it, so whatever remained had to come down somewhere. Evidently grounding in water made the crater harder to find.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 31 Aug 2008 #permalink

I have strong circumstantial evidence of a turkey being hit and killed by a meteorite. I was walking through the alley behind the house last winter when I detected an intense aroma of cooked turkey flesh. Rounding a stack of empty boxes, I came upon a steaming turkey skeleton sitting in a dumpster. My hypothesis is that the turkey was flying when it was hit by a meteor which burned away all the feathers, skin, and flesh, and the smoking remains plummeted into the dumpster where I found them. The meteor must have hit the bird's head first, for the skull was entirely missing, and then drilled through its body, forcing out all the entrails, of which I also found no trace. This was on the afternoon of Christmas Day. Amazingly, my account of the meteor strike was rejected without review from the International Journal of Astronomy.

Dr. Vector: You submitted to the wrong journal; it should have been the Journal of International Meteorology. Did you at least retrieve the neck, as evidence?

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 01 Sep 2008 #permalink

Not impossible, I guess, but highly unlikely-still, isn't
that the definition of an anomaly? I recently read your
'Intelligent Dinosaur article in FT 238, by the way, and
wanted to ask if Nemo Ramjet( I think he was the artist )
did any other views of your conjectural intelligent? I
think I might have a go at sculpting it one of these days....

I can't help but think that the higher you are, the more currently-intact meteors there would be whizzing by, but I don't know the disintegration profile on a rock entering atmosphere - they burn up, sure, but how quickly, and mostly in what layers?

Yes, I know, it would still be incredibly unlikely, but my nerdish brain wants to know how much less so.

Meteorites (of the kind that don't cause huge craters) reach a terminal velocity in the lower atmosphere which is typically in the range of 90 m/s to 180 m/s. I think a 4kg rock falling at that speed would cause a lot more damage to the goose than is shown in the picture. After all, that is not unlike being struck by a small cannon ball, which would reduce to terminal velocity eventually. 1m/s is roughly 2.25mph.

Meteorites that get through to land have usually had time to cool down, even get frost on them, whereas earlier in their passage through the atmosphere the forward facing surface of the meteorite would have got hot enough to melt, hence the characteristic fusion crust on the forward facing side of the meteorite. They typically hit the atmosphere at a relative velocity of 10,000 to 70,000 m/s, (earth at 30,000 m/s, meteoroid typically 40,000 m/s) though it can rarely happen at a much lower velocity. So I think in general the pyrotechnics take place high in the atmosphere, and at goose-flying height the number passing is not materially different from at ground level.

I had a conversation with someone who found a hot rock which landed on their isolated property at night, having heard a bang. The rock was plainly not a meteorite (as she eventually had to accept), looking like a piece of building rubble with no fusion crust. A meteorite would have been unlikely to be hot, although it does happen. Most likely it exploded out of someone's bonfire, even though she found it hard to believe that someone could have been having a big bonfire in their vicinity without them knowing.

By Ivan Viehoff (not verified) on 15 Sep 2008 #permalink

According to the Ten Year Annals of the Hittite king Mursilis II, a 'thunderbolt' struck Apasa (= Ephesus), the capital of the rebellious client-kingdom of Arzawa. This thunderbolt, wich might well have been a meteor, was said to have wounded the knee of the Arzawan king (or brought him to his knees?).
As the bolide was large enogh to be seen in the whole land of Arzawa, it is rather unlikely that the king was the only person afflicted by this impact. Quite probably a lot of ordinary people were killed, but unlike their king, they were not important enough to be mentioned in a chronicle.

Posted by: johannes | August 29, 2008 12:02 PM

WOW, that reminds me of the following:

"The city clerk quietened the crowd and said: 'Men of Ephesus, doesn't the whole world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven ? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable..." (The Book of The Acts of the Apostles, Ch19:v35; my italics.)

Could it be... The same Mursilis thunderbolt? Still remembered and revered locally (and known by the Ephesians to be known by repute far more widely), later, in the first century AD?

Sounds to me like a case where a bolide, publicly witnessed, was traced to its landing site (well, wouldn't you want to know what came down?) Finding a weird-looking (partly-fused, airflow-sculpted) meteorite in a crater or among smashed vegetation, the finders superstitiously (or cynically) adopted (or adapted) their find as an object of worship...

The rock may have been carefully 'cleaned and prepared' (we may read 'artfully embellished') - with or without intentional deceit - to 'reveal' more clearly its perceived and wished-for resemblance to a deity, and to maximise its impressive appeal. Of course, such an object could conveniently increase local tourism and temple revenues...

BTW the bit about the king's 'knee being wounded' (brought to his knees' metaphorically?) seems likely enough to arise from confusion in translation when reporting, maybe taking a metaphor literally. Mass panic or religious upheaval resulting from a bolide may have unsettled his dominion.
Alternatively, could a fragmenting substantial impactor have scattered debris widely, actually wounding many? That could certainly have motivated the Ephesians to attempt to placate an evidently-angry deity by increasing their devotion...

Dates! More facts! We need 'em! :-D

By Graham King (not verified) on 25 Sep 2008 #permalink

The duck suffered the smite of god.

I thought you will be interested in this. On the 14 of August this year, over 75 flamingos were found dead, and many other injured in the fields near their breeding salt lake (Petrola) in SE Spain by a birdwatcher. The puzzled guy was left at a loss to understand what had happened, as he ruled out poisoning or illness given the type of injury of the birds. The next day he read in the newspaper that there had been a violent and very local hailstorm in the area and he put two and two together. For those of you who can read Spanish this was reported here (with lots of photos)…
It also made it to all the local newspapers. The area has few trees and I guess the birds were completely defenceless against the hail.